Historical fiction takes you on another path, sometimes good and sometimes bad

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“The Man in the High Castle” fan art by Luis Guggenberger

I am currently in the midst of a major writing project that is different from anything I have written before. Historical fiction is not an easy genre to write. There are plenty of stories out there, like Harry Turtledove “How Few Remain” or Philip K. Dick “The Man on the High Castle” for example. These stories takes the world and turn it on end beyond what we know as history. It’s just science fiction but rather, as the term is coined, a historical fiction. These stories take one moment in history and with a simple turn of the switch, the world as we know it changed.

For example, in “How Few Remain” there was a moment in the Civil War where General Robert E. Lee sent out battle plans to his generals. One courier wrapped those plans around some cigars, but lost them enroute. These battle plans were found by a Union soldier and that gave them the edge over the Confederate general. This single moment in time changed the course of the war, in the eyes of the writer. That’s what it takes to create a good historical fiction… One moment in time changed and that brings about a new timeline. Doctor Who refers to this as a “fixed moment” in time, one that cannot change, like Rosa Parks refusing to get out of her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. By changing these moments in time, we can change the future. To that end, a writer of historical fiction must be a writer and a historian.

Granted, you don’t have to be a history major to write historical fiction, but you need to research the Hell out of it. My current #WIP is Corsair and the Sky Pirates. The story is based on one of those pivotal moments in history, a chance meeting between Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne. This is where my story begins, but I first had to research a simple question… Were Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla ever in France at the same time? That question was essential to my story, and the answer was yes. In 1887, Tesla was working for the Continental Edison Company in Paris, France. At that time, Jules Verne lived in Amiens, France, just north of Paris. There existed the possibility of that chance meeting, so as a writer of fantasy and science fiction, I made it happen.

From that meeting grew a story of a new world, a new industrial revolution started years earlier than expected. This would be a steampunk world where fragments of a meteor would power technology, built by Tesla from the imagination of Verne. Oh, what a wonderful world it would be, right? That is how a historical fiction begins.

Many books of this fashion focus on two distinct moments… The Civil War or World War II. Seeing a different outcomes to these monumental, worldwide clashes piques the curiosity of readers. We all look at the world and wonder what difference would be made at these pivotal moments, a world under Nazi rule or where slavery extended beyond the Civil War. These are evil times, easy to prophesize and lay out because evil has one goal… Power!

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Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla

So, in my own historical fiction, I had that moment in history but I needed a villain. That was easy for me. As Tesla was my protagonist, the only choice for an antagonist was Thomas Edison. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Edison was an evil man. He was a genius, an inventor of the precursor of much of the technology we use today. But, he was also a capitalist, interested in making money. Like many corporations today, i.e. Apple, Google, Twitter and the likes, controlling the narrative means controlling the people in the world. That’s the villain I needed, corporations. When you move the industrial revolution forward, you’re automatically giving control over to the corporations that provide us with technology that makes our life easier, for a price. I wanted to represent our current addition to technology and bring it to bear in a steampunk, industrialized world. Edison was the perfect villain for my story.

That’s the beauty of writing historical fiction. You can change the world into something completely different. From turning Abraham Lincoln into a Marxist/Socialist (“How Few Remain”) to an alliance between Roosevelt, Churchill and Hitler to fight back an alien invasion (“Worldwar” series), it is an open book when writing historical fiction. The key is to base it in history. Where you go from there depends on the storyteller.

Research is the best thing for anyone writing historical fiction. I’ve learned more about the world at the turn of the century since I started writing this story. I learned about Jack Johnson, Geronimo, William Hearst, and more. From the people, to the countries, to the events, it is an open book… Better yet, an open world for any writer to explore. It’s the ability to create a world from one we all know, but make it new and make it different.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.

Read some alternative historical fiction to understand our history

Harry Turtledove Combo [3 TITLES] How Few Remain (1997), The Great War: American Front (1999), & Ruled Britannia (2003): Harry Turtledove: Amazon.com: BooksThere’s been a lot of news lately about protesters and anarchists causing chaos and tearing down statues. Some see these as a progressive move forward in America, while others look at it as rewriting our history. There are good arguments on both sides. When it comes to statues of Confederate Generals and leaders in the Confederacy, I have no problem with removing them. They should not be out in the open, on display, but rather in a museum or national park (Civil War battlefield) to explain the war and why it happened. That’s where history belongs, in the museums and parks that illustrate why we are here.

First, let me say that I support and understand the arguments for black lives matter. I understand because my daughter-in-law is African-American and, listening to the experiences of her and her family, it makes me realize that my experiences are vastly different from theirs. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in North Carolina, and I never saw or experienced issues with race. I was raised not to judge people by the color of their skin. Even during my 23 years in the Navy, it was never an issue. In fact, most of the senior enlisted and officers I served under were African American. Like I said, it has never been an issue with me.

However, in my lifetime, I discovered that it’s never a good idea to erase or rewrite history. Remember the famous quote from George Santayana… “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.” I truly believe that. They are using these otherwise peaceful protests to vandalize these statues. First, it was Confederate monuments, now its Washington, Jefferson, Grant, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and others. They even vandalized statues of abolitionists, women suffragettes, Winston Churchill and Gandhi. It’s no longer about police reform or rights of African Americans, but about changing America itself.

I will agree that we are far from perfect as a nation. What country is? There are parts of our history that were long considered brutal, horrific and nothing to be proud of. And yet, it’s what led us to be the people we are today. The best way to understand history is to look at alternate history of what could have been. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, as both a novel and TV series, gives us a glimpse of the world if the Nazi’s won World War II, even if you look past the science fiction vibe of the story. For me, the best writer of alternative historical fiction is Harry Turtledove.

Harry Turtledove takes one point in time, one instantaneous moment in history, and changes it, altering the future and changing the history as we know it. The best example of this is his novel, How Few Remain. This is the first book of a series that spans from ten years after the Civil War through World War II, but with different outcomes. In this alternate reality, the South wins the war, Lincoln is ousted as president and becomes a stout Marxist, Lee and Longstreet eventually become Presidents of the Confederacy, Great Britain and France are allies of the South while Germany becomes an ally of the USA, there is no rise to fascism in Germany, and instead of a Jewish Holocaust, the mass killings happen to blacks in the South. This twisted view of history is only a possibility, but it demonstrates the power of our own history and how it could have been.

Harry Turtledove has done other books outside of U.S. history; if the Romans continued to rule Europe in the modern day; if Japan won the war in the Pacific, the Korean War escalates into World War III; and other more fantastic and science fiction based alternative histories (aliens invading at the peak of World War II, magic existing in the world and how that changed history, and a trilogy where the Yellowstone Caldera erupts at some unspecified point in the future.) His writings are immaculate and intensively researched to where you actually believe that these timelines could exist.

I’m not trying to be political here. I am a firm believer that we need to learn from our history, and destroying statues to erase history is what the Nazis did, what the Taliban and Isis did, what every dictator in history did to erase the history they disagreed with and put their own in place. It’s not how we learn. We learn from remembering our history to make the world a better place, because that’s what we do as authors.

The stories of our lives are written down by the authors to keep the knowledge alive.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.